Winnipegger pounding the streets to try to identify ‘Buffalo Woman’

For weeks, Darryl Contois has been out on the cold streets of Winnipeg working to put a face and a name to a woman police believe fell victim to an alleged serial killer, and hoping to bring some closure to a grieving family.

“If there is someone out there missing their loved one, and we can bring some closure through the work we are doing, than that’s why we do this,” Contois said on Wednesday morning, as he taped up a poster near the corner of Selkirk Avenue and Powers Street in the city’s North End.

The poster is one of hundreds that a grassroots group headed up by Contois have taped up in multiple Winnipeg neighbourhoods in recent weeks, as they work to help identify a woman who is believed to be a victim of Jeremy Skibicki, a Winnipeg man Winnipeg Police (WPS) allege is a serial killer, and who is now behind bars charged with four counts of first-degree murder.

In early December, WPS announced that they believe four Indigenous women were murdered earlier this year in Winnipeg by Skibicki.

The remains of Rebecca Contois, (no relation) one of the women Skibicki is alleged to have killed, were discovered in the Brady Road Landfill earlier this year, while WPS said they believe the remains of victims Morgan Harris and Mercedes Myran are now in the Prairie Green Landfill near Stony Mountain.

But Skibicki is also accused of killing a fourth woman who remains unidentified, and who community members have been referring to as Buffalo Woman.

WPS have said they believe Buffalo Woman was in her mid-20s, was Indigenous, and had an average build, and back in December they released an image of a reversible jacket, which they believe belonged to her.

Contois said the group has put up hundreds of posters in recent weeks in several Winnipeg neighbourhoods featuring an image of the jacket that was originally shared by WPS, as they hope that someone might recognize it, and might have information that can help to identify Buffalo Woman.

“It’s such an important part of the case so we need to find out if anyone recognizes the jacket,” Contois said. “And that’s why we’ve put up hundreds of posters, because we need to find out who has seen that jacket.”

He said the group is also going directly to people living on the streets that may be able to help them learn the woman’s identity.

“We go and we talk to a lot of the street people,” Contois said. “We pass info onto them, and get whatever info we can get from them, because all these women were street people, and in a lot of ways it’s like a big family out there.

“And a lot of them don’t have social media, and that’s why we get out there and hit the streets and get whatever info we can from them, and give them as much info as we can.”

Contois added he knows it could take a long time to get answers that could identify Buffalo Woman, but he is confident that one day she will be identified, and one day her family will be able to get some closure.

“I believe we are getting closer every day to getting over the finish line and identifying Buffalo Woman, and we’ll keep working until we do,” he said.

On Wednesday, WPS were asked about the status of their investigation as they look to identify the woman they allege was killed by Skibicki, and who so far has not been identified.

“The investigation into the homicide and identification of Buffalo Woman remains active and ongoing,” a WPS spokesperson said in an email.

“It remains a priority for the Homicide Unit; however, we do not have further information to share at this time.”

— Dave Baxter is a Local Journalism Initiative reporter who works out of the Winnipeg Sun. The Local Journalism Initiative is funded by the Government of Canada.

Dave Baxter, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, Winnipeg Sun